WRITTEN BY CHELSEA SARAI – 12/11/2018
Growing up as the youngest daughter in a close-knit Persian-Jewish family in Los Angeles, afforded me with many experiences. My parents both immigrated to the United States during the 70’s after their country had a political uprising and became an Islamic State, it was no longer safe for them and their families to consider Iran home and they immediately begun to look to the West for asylum. However, when I was younger, my parents did not often speak to us about these narratives with pride. Unconsciously or consciously, they chose to raise my sister and I as American as possible. Yes, we learned to not bring “stinky” persian food to school in our paper brown lunch bags and replaced those with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat bread. This experience to assimilate was this unspoken understanding within our family simultaneously tying us together and pulling us apart from each other.
We allowed ourselves to sink fully into ourselves and not put on our “white voices” when we were with our extended family spending Friday night Shabbat dinner crammed into my grandmothers 1,000 square foot apartment. The warmth of Farsi being spoken throughout the house was soothing, having my grandmother and her sister’s cut fruit and force feed it to me was home, the smell, sight and taste of Persian Chai after our meal was a ritual that I never wanted to replace and one that I have not replaced to this day. At a young age I learned to code switch. I saw being Persian as something not to be proud of, I let my American friends with their skin as silky as cream make fun of my culture with whatever stereotypes were funny at the time. I found myself sinking down in my chair whenever conflicts of the Middle East were brought up in History Class, while our teacher reinforced racism and islamophobia within the classroom, and it felt like no one else but me was thinking “what the fuck is going on here?”.
However, it is important to note that my life was filled with many privileges and the experiences listed above are quite common for a child of immigrants or a person of color living in the United States. I feel like they are important to name because through naming them and exploring them inspired me to move to San Francisco and become a therapist with a cultural diversity and social justice lense. I wanted to further understand my identity while providing a space for another person to be witnessed and validated. Through my coursework, experience working as a therapist with a diverse community of individuals and beginning my own experience in psychoanalysis- I was able to notice where my personal experience of injustice mirrored and reflected others around me, and when it in fact did not. Through this process, specifically in psychoanalysis, I began to allow myself to tap into these deep seated emotions and feelings that were propelling my anxiety, and I got to look closer at what core thoughts I had that were defending me against feeling my depression. The depression that my parents and their parents carried over from Iran, the depression of a country that was destroyed by foreign greed, the depression of a community having to uproot and find home elsewhere, the depression that has been intergenerationally within my blood and something that ties together my ancestors and me.
This journey towards transparency is quite a challenging one. One I find myself occasionally thinking, “am I done yet?” Feeling fatigued towards self-reflection yet also inspired and grateful for the teary-eyed experience of getting to know myself deeper. The most constant relationship I have in this wild experience that is life, is the one with myself and I damn grateful to begin to love this relationship. To dive a bit deeper into understanding, nourishing and accepting my crevices, my cracks, my forgotten secrets, my strengths and all that is yet to come up.
Transparency is a shared journal that is curated by Tiana Petrullo in collaboration with a beautiful community of contributors who have offered to share their personal experiences with mental health. To encourage a contribution of the most raw and real experience, minimal guidance was given. All stories have been willingly shared and are written to reflect what is personally most prevalent to the writer. Together, we offer an expansion of knowledge, awareness, and acknowledgement.